Israel's Holot Detention Facility for African Asylum-seekers Reaches Full Capacity for First Time

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Asylum seekers at the entrance to Holot detention facility, December 29, 2015.
Asylum seekers at the entrance to Holot detention facility, December 29, 2015.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The Holot detention facility for African asylum-seekers in the Negev reached full capacity on Tuesday, Haaretz has learned. There are now 3,360 asylum-seekers from Sudan and Eritrea at Holot, the first time it has reached full capacity since it was built two years ago.

The Population, Immigration and Border Authority has ordered hundreds of asylum-seekers to report to Holot in the coming weeks, but the Israel Prison Service, which manages Holot, said in answer to a query from Haaretz that the facility will not be able to take in more people, and the Population, Immigration and Border Authority will have to decide what to do about the asylum-seekers who arrive at Holot. 

Holot is the only detention facility of its type in Israel due to its open-door policy during the day, and so there is no alternative facility to which to send the asylum-seekers who have been ordered to report.

As Haaretz has reported, government ministries are moving ahead on the expansion of Holot, but no decision has been made yet. Public Security Ministry director general Rotem Peleg asked the Prime Minister’s Office a month ago to call together an inter-ministerial committee to study the establishment of other facilities. It is not known that such a committee has met.

Former interior minister Silvan Shalom’s departure from office a week and a half ago cut short internal discussions of expansion plans for Holot. Even if it is decided to expand Holot or build another facility, the project will take time to complete.

Following a High Court of Justice ruling in August that restricted to one year the period of time the state is allowed to hold asylum-seekers, the state has had to release 1,178 out of 1,765 detainees held in the detention facility. Most of the asylum-seekers held there now reported there over the past two months and are therefore not expected to be released before the end of 2016.

The number of those ordered to report to Holot far outstrips the number of those expected to be released during the same period. If no solution is found, the Population, Immigration and Border Authority will have no choice but to cancel orders or put on hold orders to report to Holot, and extend temporary residency permits in those cases.

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